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9 things to prepare for when encountering sovereign citizens

Sovereign citizens fancy themselves outside of the laws of the land and don’t recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. government

In volatile times for the street officer it is important to remember that terrorism comes in many forms.

Take Jerry and Joe Kane. In May 2010, in West Memphis (Ark.), the father (Jerry) and son (Joe), were stopped in their pickup truck by two officers. The stop ended in tragedy when 16-year-old Joe exited the vehicle and opened fire with an AK-47, killing both officers. After fleeing the scene, the Kanes met their own demise a short while later during a shootout with law enforcement.

When we use the word “terrorist,” an image of the Kanes may not necessarily be what first comes to mind. However, they are as dangerous as any jihadist — and you’re much more likely to run into radicals like the Kanes on patrol than you are extremists such as those that carried out terrorism attacks around the world.

Dealing with sovereigns

The Kanes identified as “sovereign citizens.” Sovereign citizens fancy themselves outside of the laws of the land and don’t recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. government. They have their own interpretation of the law (one that grants them some strikingly odd “rights”) and present a very real danger during any interaction with law enforcement.

Here are nine indicators that you may be in contact with a sovereign citizen.

  1. A sovereign citizen’s license plates are sometimes completely and obviously fraudulent. They may refer to the “republic” of a given state or have the word “sovereign” on the plate itself.
  2. A Sovereign citizen may give you a pile of paperwork when simply prompted for a license. The paperwork is often totally unrelated to your request for identification. If they do give you identification, it may very well be fraudulent or from a place that doesn’t even exist. These documents are designed to frustrate, confuse, and most dangerously, distract you. You know what your state’s driver’s license looks like. You know what your state’s registration looks like. Don’t fall victim to this tactic.
  3. A sovereign citizen may ask for your “Oath of Office.” Sovereigns believe an officer is required to carry a copy of the oath taken upon appointment to law enforcement. Obviously, this is not something most of us carry with us — nor is there any legal requirement to do so.
  4. A sovereign citizen will not refer to their vehicle as a “vehicle.” They will refer to it as their “conveyance.” There are no legal requirements (registration, mechanical statues, insurance, etc.) for a conveyance. It is a shell game used to try and subvert the vehicle code.
  5. A sovereign citizen doesn’t drive their vehicle. They “travel” in their “conveyance.” Again, this is a semantic attempt to avoid responsibility laid out in any given state’s vehicle code. If a person isn’t, in fact, “driving”, but rather “traveling”, how can a vehicle code apply?
  6. A sovereign citizen may refer to the 14th Amendment or the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Sovereign citizens believe the 14th Amendment caused Americans to become federal citizens instead of sovereign ones. The UCC was created to “harmonize the law of sales and other commercial transactions.” Sovereign citizens believe that once the United States adopted the 14th Amendment, it became a corporation and thus, the UCC (an oppressively convoluted document) is the effective law of the land.
  7. A sovereign citizen may mention they “have no contract” with you and may refuse to sign a citation. Again, this goes back to the belief that the United States is a corporation and you are an agent of that corporation. Thus, according to the UCC, they are not beholden to you or the government.
  8. If you are able to get them to sign a citation, the sovereign citizen may very well sign it, add “under duress” and include a UCC section.
  9. After the stop, you may receive a bill for the time you have spent with the sovereign citizen. You may be aware of it and you may not. Sovereign citizens have been known to put liens on officers’ homes that go for months or years completely unbeknownst to the officer until he or she attempts to sell or refinance a home. This is known as “paper terrorism.”


Many of these tactics used by sovereign citizens are designed to confuse and distract law enforcement. Don’t let a situation you are unfamiliar with throw you or, worse yet, distract you to the point where your focus is off the situation at hand. You own that stop — the driver and any occupants are yours until you make the decision to cut them loose. Cops get so caught up in the job with doing things fast. Much can be gained by slowing down, taking a breath, waiting for backup and doing one thing at a time.

Learn more about sovereign citizens
Read the most recent Police1 news and expert analysis about sovereign citizens and law enforcement

Jason Hoschouer is a law enforcement officer with an agency in the San Francisco Bay area in California. In addition to patrolling the streets as a motor officer, Hoschouer helps fellow LEOs with financial coaching through his company, GPS Financial Coaching. Hoschouer’s column on Police1 covers everything from motors to monies, from britches to budgets. Jason has been blogging under the pseudonym “Motorcop” at since 2008 and was also a columnist for American COP Magazine for several years.

You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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